For weeks, questions have swirled around the health of Braxton Miller and a surgically-repaired shoulder that was supposed to have healed a long time ago.
Yet less than two weeks away from Ohio State’s season opener, Miller, its senior quarterback and centerpiece, remained curiously limited throwing the football as of Monday morning. A frustrating situation went from bizarre to a nightmarish a few hours later.
In a stunning and gutting turn of events, Miller re-injured his throwing shoulder on a routine passing play during the team’s afternoon practice, sources told Eleven Warriors Monday night. He dislocated it (right elbow to left hip, like a pitcher on the mound) and collapsed onto the field for at least five minutes while trainers and medical staff rushed to his side.
Miller was carted off Ackerman Field – the team’s temporary, off-site campground – and back to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center where his family later joined him there. He left the building in a sling. He’s set for an MRI Tuesday morning, though it remains unclear if or how much time he’ll miss.
Equally as muddled is how this all happened in the first place.
After undergoing surgery in February to repair damage suffered against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Miller spent the last six months recovering and preparing to be the crux of a season swathed in championship hopes.
He was cleared to throw in early July and, by now, it was expected he’d be mastering the finest, most nuanced points of head coach Urban Meyer’s vaunted spread offense. Instead, he watched backup quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones take snaps in his place.
Still, the Buckeyes, and Miller himself, insisted he was fine. They said it was part of a plan to ease him back into the daily grind of zipping and launching the ball every day.
“I’m 100 percent,” Miller said in between practices Monday. “It's just progression in my shoulder and it's precaution. I don't want to overdo it before the first game and I gotta sit out the first game ... it's part of the plan, we talk about it every day.”
The coaching staff said mental reps and mastering the team’s powerful offense “from the shoulders up” was just as important as working on timing with a new crop of talented, but inexperienced, wide receivers. They said being an observer was as an effective tool for growth, even if it wasn’t ideal.
Before hundreds of reporters at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago three weeks ago, Meyer said the Heisman hopeful was healthy and in “the best shape of his life.”
“I know I’ll get asked that question,” he said. He was right. That question got hurled at him plenty, but it never went away.
With every passing day that inched the team closer to its debut against Navy Aug. 30, a clearer picture showed Miller wasn’t as beaming as Meyer previously indicated. He wasn’t taking live reps during practice and he wasn’t throwing the ball much. This is where the team’s talking points about Miller dramatically change from “this is the best he’s ever been” to “we hope he’ll be ready" in the span of about 21 days.
In the first week of camp, Meyer and the coaching staff addressed the development by saying it was a precautionary measure to mitigate soreness and control the volume of Miller’s throws. They said it was part of a carefully constructed plan to ensure the quarterback didn’t accidentally hurt himself. It worked to suggest the matter was within Ohio State’s control.
But after another week passed by, Miller was just as limited as before. This time, Meyer and Co.’s message was about optimism.
“We’re expecting him Monday to hopefully take a big step. From what they tell me, he’s right on schedule, you’d like to have him to do a bit more but he did scrimmage today and attitude’s great. He’ll be ready,” Meyer said Saturday. “I’ve known Braxton for three years and it’s almost like looking at your son, you can see in his face if he’s concerned. And he’s not.”
When Monday rolled around, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman did his best not to add fuel to fire when talking about Miller.
“I think the trainers are optimistic and everything is on schedule. Had a little bit of a setback with some additional soreness that we weren't expecting,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said. “I'm not ready to say concerned is the right word. Not yet.”
Because even if something was wrong, Ohio State had 12 days to fix it. That's the funny thing about time, though. In April, life without Braxton Miller was an unpleasant, but very temporary, problem. It might be reality now.